The Zodiac ships with two games, Acid Solitaire and StuntCar Extreme. These are pretty basic, though the latter shows off the vibrate feature which adds effect to some games. I was provided with an array of commercial titles including Doom, Duke Nukem, Tony Hawks Pro Skater, Mini Golf, Breakout and several others. In general they play surprisingly well, and sound output is good, especially through headphones.
While I found nothing to grumble about with regard to the Zodiac 2’s turn of speed, it was clear that the controls are better for some games than others. I guess that’s always the case with handheld gaming hardware, though. Of more concern is that I’ve played some of the games so often on other platforms that it felt a bit like there was nothing new to see here.
Software support really matters for the Zodiac 2. The hardware is compatible with the oodles and oodles of Palm applications out there, but what buyers are really going to want is games from commercial high-fliers designed to take advantage of the comparatively strong sound and graphics features. In this respect, the list of titles available via www.tapwave.com is OK, but not vast.
Games development for newer platforms is a bit chicken and egg. For developers to get interested there needs to be lots of devices out there forming a good potential market. For lots of people to buy the hardware it needs to be enticing, which in this case, as the Zodiac 2 is in no small part a gaming platform, means there needs to be lots of games. I suspect the momentum needs to come from the hardware provider in this case, which means Tapwave has to get its thinking cap on.
Battery life is important with any handheld, and no gamer wants their device to fail mid-way through a session. I used BatteryBench to test the life of the Zodiac 2 putting it through the same paces I’d put a standard Palm OS device through in order to get a comparison. At Full Power I got three hours 56 minutes of life, at Normal Use I got 7 hours 25 minutes. That’s pretty good in comparison to other Palm based handhelds, but gaming is power hungry and I doubt serious players will get a day’s fun out of a full charge.
The Zodiac 2 would make a fine Palm based PDA. Its large screen and huge memory capacity make it ideal for the software hoarders among us. The MP3 player turns out good quality sound – better through headphones than the speakers – and the 3.5mm jack will please owners of superior headphones. The hardware itself has superb build and finish. The Zodiac certainly delivers a better gaming experience than any other Palm PDA I’ve seen, but its games library is small and needs to grow fast.
A sleek, stylish and innovative product that blends the practical uses of a PDA with a mobile games machine. With an estimated price of around £300 it’s not as cheap as a games system, but it’s comparable to HP’s latest consumer focussed PDAs. If Tapwave can convince more games developers to get on board, this could be a great pocket solution.
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